UNHCR Innovation Fellowship 2023

Call for Applications

The UNHCR Innovation Fellowship is an annual learning programme designed to give Fellows the skills they need to bring innovative approaches to their daily work. The programme also focuses on enabling Fellows to share innovation methods and mindsets with their colleagues, boosting organization-wide capacity to creatively solve tough challenges.

The Innovation Service is currently accepting applications for the 2023 Innovation Fellowship. Before you apply, please read the information and FAQs below carefully. If you have additional questions, please attend one of our information sessions. These will be held on 16 March 2023 at 09:00 CET, 14:00 CET, and 17:00 CET.

“Innovation is a continuous process, a mindset, and it can be taught. Innovation is a way of life: seeing a problem, coming up with ideas with others, making assumptions, designing solutions, and experimenting over and over again. All of this is scary, it’s not easy – but innovators continue to do it, over and over again!”

Lara Amro, Innovation Fellow, 2022 Cohort

Essential Information

The Innovation Fellowship focuses on building participants’ innovation skills and capabilities, and supporting them to facilitate innovation with colleagues, partners, and displaced communities. 

Over the course of the programme, Fellows learn new skills as they explore, collaborate, problem-solve, and experiment with solutions to real-life challenges. They embed these approaches into innovation projects in their own operations or divisions.

Innovation Fellows are UNHCR’s ambassadors for innovation and lasting positive change within and beyond the organization.

This year, the Fellowship programme will consist of six phases, each of which entails a different mix of work and level of intensity:

    June 2023 Information sessions Including orientation and technology sessions
    July – August 2023

    Optional events


    Self-paced learning

    Including coffee breaks, masterclasses


    Including recommended learning materials to complete at own pace

    September – November 2023

    Mandatory sessions


    Optional events


    Individual work


    Including workshops, webinars, peer support


    Including learning from alumni Fellows


    Work on tasks 1–6 at your own pace

    December 2023

    Individual work


    Optional events

    Work on tasks 1–6 at your own pace


    Including, masterclasses

    January – February 2024

    Mandatory sessions


    Optional events


    Individual work

    Including webinars and peer support


    Including alumni experience sharing


    Work on tasks 6–8 at your own pace

    March 2024

    Optional events


    Individual work



    Including open-house sessions


    Complete task 9, the Fellowship Final Report


    Let’s celebrate YOU, together!

    The programme is jointly organized by the Innovation Service and the Global Learning and Development Centre (GLDC) within the Division of Human Resources (DHR).


    To apply for the Innovation Fellowship, you must:

    • Be a current UNHCR staff member, or part of UNHCR’s affiliate workforce, and hold a contract with UNHCR for the duration of the Fellowship.
    • Or be a member of another UN agency or partner organization.
    • Have the drive, commitment, curiosity, and courage to find new ways to solve challenges facing UNHCR in its service to refugees.


    We particularly encourage applications from managers who are seeking to create safe spaces for innovation and creativity in their teams.

    Application Process

    Only completed applications will be considered. Please fill out the application form in English (including, crucially, the names and contact details of your supervisor), answering each question carefully before submitting.

    Please be aware that the application form calls both for written answers and for audiovisual content.

    Important 2023 dates:

    • Call for applications opens: 7 March 2023.
    • Deadline for applications: 25 March 2023 at 23:59 CET.
    • Successful applicants informed by: 12 May 2023.

    Innovation is a long and winding road, but the application process should not be! Please note that we are not able to consider late applications.

    Application Form

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    What happens during the Fellowship?

    The Fellowship involves a full curriculum of real-life assignments, online workshops, webinars, open-house calls, peer-support group sessions, and alumni mentoring to support Fellows as they work on their independent projects.

    To advance these projects, Fellows follow a loosely-scripted approach, working their way through nine tasks that guide them through the different stages of innovation. This process begins with a collaborative approach to narrowing down problems Fellows have identified and possible solutions to those problems. Then, each Fellow rapidly tests their ideas, before honing in on a particularly promising solution. Fellows aren’t expected to produce a perfect final product from this journey; instead, they’re expected to go through a process that evidences their learning and that they can continue with once the Fellowship is over.

    Is the Fellowship delivered online or in person?

    The Fellowship is delivered fully online, with hands-on assignments stemming from practical challenges and opportunities for innovating in UNHCR. Although the programme involves plenty of workshops and opportunities for Fellows to interact, we unfortunately do not have any in-person modalities at present.

    If I’m successful, how much time will I need to dedicate to the Fellowship?

    Innovation doesn’t happen without time and dedication. We ask Fellows to spend roughly 20% of their work week on innovation throughout the duration of the Fellowship. This time can be allocated in many ways – whether you set aside one day per week or an hour or so each day. Time management can be discussed during the programme.

    Is the Fellowship about technology?

    Absolutely not! Fellows learn how to address operational challenges using an array of innovation methodologies (such as experimentation and testing). These methodologies can involve high-tech, low-tech, and even zero-tech solutions. Innovation is an approach and a mindset that is accessible to everyone, regardless of the technology available to you.

    Can I apply if I’m from outside the UNHCR community?

    We accept applications from any and all UNHCR colleagues, as well as members of other UN agenciesNGOsand partner organizations.

    Can I apply if I am on special leave without pay?

    Unfortunately not. Because the core work of the Fellowship is to embed your learnings into a work project, it is important that Fellows are currently at work. Moreover, one of the Fellowship’s overarching goals is to boost broader innovation capacity. Engaging and collaborating with colleagues on your innovation project is an important part of the programme.

    How does having an Innovation Fellow on the team benefit operations?

    Having an Innovation Fellow on board is an awesome opportunity for any country operation or division. Fellows go through intensive innovation training, and they’re supported to facilitate innovation with their colleagues, partners, and displaced communities. The skills and mindsets they bring to the wider team will lead to innovative solutions and positive change. Managers play a crucial role in innovation, by investing in their team and enabling them to take the time and space they need to facilitate creative approaches.

    How can I get buy-in from my supervisor?

    Innovation takes time! It’s very challenging to make that time if you don’t have permission to innovate in your daily work. So, it’s important to get buy-in from your supervisor, and to ensure they understand that the operation as a whole will benefit from your participation.

     Additionally, together with colleagues from GLDC’s MLES, we are happy to speak with your supervisor and provide them with information to help them help you. We will also host information sessions during the application process, to which you can invite your supervisor.

    Can I send a joint application with a colleague?

    Collaboration is key to innovation, so it’s wonderful that you want to work together! However, each applicant must submit an independent application, and each application will be reviewed individually. You can, however, let us know about your plans to collaborate in your application.

    I have an innovative idea and I need funding to implement it. Can the Fellowship fund it?

    So great to hear that you already have a fully fledged idea! Innovation is about so much more than great ideas, though – and the Fellowship is designed to help colleagues learn how to tackle operational challenges using innovation methodologies.

    However, you should check out the four Innovation Funds run by the Innovation Service. They are: the Digital Innovation Fund; the Refugee-led Innovation Fund; the Environment and Climate Action Innovation Fund; and the Data Innovatio Fund.

    I want to attend a conference/event. Can the Fellowship fund this?

    The Fellowship does not sponsor travel to individual conferences and events. 

    I love workshops! Can I join yours without being part of the Fellowship? Or become a Fellow just to come to them?

    We love your enthusiasm for learning – but unfortunately non-Fellows aren’t able to join Fellowship workshops. And, if you do join the Fellowship, you are committing to the entire programme of learning, not just the workshops. The core learning opportunities that the Fellowship offers lie in the independent innovation work that Fellows conduct in their own operations/divisions. The workshops are conducted to support that work. 

    If you’re excited about innovation and learning but aren’t able to join the Fellowship, we have good news for you: we’re working on an open innovation webinar series! Be the first to hear about upcoming events by leaving us your email address here.

    Visit the Innovation Service blog to read about the experiences of Fellows from previous cohorts – including how the Fellowship can help innovative ideas take root, and what Fellows learned about experimentation and collaboration during the programme. Take a look over our Innovation Learning page for more voices from the Fellowship.